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Centennial Park reopens, Canalside season uncertain

Mike Desmond
Dog owners enjoy Centennial Park Wednesday.

On a chilly but sunny Wednesday afternoon, there were some visitors walking around Canalside or sitting on a bench looking into a clear blue sky, across the harbor. However, this year, that waterfront scene is buried in the fog of coronavirus, leaving the events of the next few months unclear.

Canalside has become a fixture of Buffalo in very recent years, the place you take visitors and show how cool the city has become. But what will it look like during its usual peak summer season?

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
A walk along Canalside's boardwalk can be a mental health lift.

Will ice cream cones be available? Will rock concerts take place? Will cultural attractions be open? Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation President Steve Ranalli said it is too early to tell, but people are coming now.

"We've been to the Outer Harbor, my family in the last couple of weeks, and we've seen a lot of people enjoying the space. With social distancing, I think there's enough space out there for people to enjoy it and feel safe and still get outside," Ranalli said. "That, I think, has been great for a lot of people that we've got out to some of these spaces, if it's just to walk around and get some fresh air."

Meanwhile, West Side residents also took advantage of the day, enjoying LaSalle's Centennial Park along the Niagara River. With some more planning and money from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, it will eventually be a much different place over the next few years.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Walkers avoid damage that remains in Centennial Park from a winter storm.

The park was heavily damaged in one of the winter storms and that damage still shows along the sea wall. However, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown had some good news Wednesday.

"Centennial Park is now open, once again, but strictly for passive use," Brown said. "The park was closed after sustaining damage during a storm earlier this month. Crews are repairing park pathways. So I ask people that are using the park to please stay behind barricades."

While there were walkers, sitters and bicyclists, the most activity in the park was a crowd of dogs of various sizes in the dog park, watched over by the humans who care for them.

The National Recreation and Park Association issued in support of parks and open spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. It recommends social distancing even as people take a break.

"We believe that many parks, trails and open spaces can continue to be used in a safe manner that allows people to enjoy the mental and physical health benefits these spaces provide," it said. "In all instances, we recommend people follow local, state and national ordinances and guidelines regarding the use of these spaces and recognize that these vary from community to community."

The statement said parks have always served as places to "find respite and seek peace and restoration. During this time of uncertainty, these places are needed now more than ever."

To date, more than 500 organizations have signed on to voice support.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.